But over their lifetime of about 15 years, heat pumps are already cheaper to buy and operate than other systems for some consumers, especially if they’re used to both heat and cool a home during different parts of the year, Monschauer says.
And over 30 countries around the world have incentive programs for heat pumps, often with bonuses for low-income households or those purchasing high-efficiency equipment. Italy has especially generous subsidies for heat pumps that are installed when retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, with customers getting up to 110% of the purchase price back as a tax credit.
In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act offers a 30% tax credit on the purchase price of a heat pump, with additional rebates for low- and moderate-income households. For some households, the funding could cover 100% of the cost. Rewiring America has a calculator to help people determine what IRA subsidies they qualify for.
What’s next for heat pumps?
While heat pumps are significantly better than they were a decade ago, there’s still plenty of potential growth ahead for the technology.
New designs, like self-contained window units from startup Gradient, could cut down on installation costs. Other companies, like Midea and LG, have also started offering small, portable units. These new options could allow heat pumps to break into new spaces, like older apartment buildings where installation might otherwise be expensive or impossible.
One ripe area for further progress is in refrigerants. While today’s refrigerants are an improvement over older options, even the newer ones are powerful greenhouse gases. Careful handling and precise manufacturing are required to avoid leaks. The climate benefits from heat pumps outweigh the warming potential of leaking refrigerants, but alternatives could help cut this risk further.
Gradient, for example, uses a refrigerant called R-32, which has a lower global warming potential than R-410A. Other classes of refrigerants, like the hydrocarbons propane and butane, pose even less climate risk. However, some of these more climate-friendly refrigerants tend to be extremely flammable, so safety systems are required.
New technological advances will help expand the already massive array of heat pumps on the market. And costs should come down over time as the technology becomes more common.
Global heat pump sales grew by 15% in 2021. Europe has seen some of the quickest growth, with 35% sales growth in 2021, a trend that’s likely to continue because of the energy crisis. North America still has the largest number of homes with heat pumps installed today, but China takes the prize for the most new sales.
Wherever you look, the era of the heat pump has officially begun.